I thought a lot about it last week as we made our first trip to gather winter evacuation and survival supplies. The winter of 2015 was enough to convince us of the importance of planning ahead and putting together an evacuation kit as well as having extra water, batteries, matches, stern-o or another source of warmth, cell- phone back-up chargers fully charged; crank and/or solar-powered weather radio Being prepared and planning ahead is nothing new.
Back in 1961, President John F. Kennedy spoke about the possibility of nuclear war, calling for the stocking of "fallout shelters in case of attack." These bunkers -- equipped with food, water, first-aid kits and other minimum essentials for survival -- were designed to protect families from an apocalyptic war.
But even the year 1961 was not the first time that people spoke of the world coming to an end. The book of Revelation is sometimes called "Apocalypse" because it speaks of the uncovering of God's plan for the climax of human history. Apocalypse is a Greek word which sounds awfully scary, but it simply means
"uncovering" or "revelation."
The apostle Paul did his own bit of uncovering in his first letter to the Thessalonians, probably the earliest of his numerous letters to the Christians of the Mediterranean region. Paul had to flee the Greek city of Thessalonica because of persecution, and he wrote his letters to the Thessalonians to prepare them for the return of Jesus.
You "know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night," Paul says. The "day of the Lord" was the moment that Christ would return to act as judge over the world, bringing God's work to completion. "When they say, 'There is peace and security,'" warns Paul, "then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!" (v. 3).
Sudden destruction! Labor pains! No escape! These are apocalyptic images as frightening as nuclear war.
Fortunately, Paul gives followers guidance on how to prepare for the end. First Thessalonians is a kind of guidebook on emergency preparedness, and it is one that we need to read today. It is more pertinent than ever, because many Americans are already doing their own kind of what I call luxury prepping.
Yes, that's right. Many people today are prepping for the apocalypse. And some of them aren't focusing on the minimum essentials for survival. They're not the kind of rugged survivalists who define "running water" as a nearby stream.
Luxury bunkers are trending. High-end shelters are very hot right now. Sales of units costing more than $500,000 have increased 700 percent in one year! One model includes "a gym, a workshop, a rec room, a greenhouse and a car depot." Clients include Hollywood actors, sports stars, bankers and businesspeople. Bill Gates is rumored to have bunkers under his houses in Washington State and California.
Also popular today are entire survival communities. A 700-acre development in Texas will include "a hotel, an athletic center, a golf course and polo fields." The community is slated to have 600 condominiums, each with a waterfront view. But here is the emergency preparedness part: "90 percent of each unit will be underground, armed security personnel will guard a wall surrounding the community, and there will be helipads for coming and going."
Wealthy condo buyers are now prepping for the apocalypse.
This luxury-bunker trend includes "not just a couple of fringe groups," says Jeff Schlegelmilch, an expert in disaster preparedness at Columbia University. No, "there is real money behind it -- hundreds of millions of dollars." Well, isn’t there always “money” behind everything, sometimes, if not too often driving our fears?
Many people are motivated by anxieties about nuclear war or civil unrest. This has only increased with the escalating rhetoric exchanged between North Korea and the United States.
Nuclear war is not the only fear driving the purchase of such survival shelters.
Others fear climate change, disease, terrorism or extremism from the far-left and far-right.
And, unlike when I lived in Southern Idaho and survivalists were mostly confined to small groups of white supremacists and anarchists, survivalists today include liberals, right along with conservatives:
Listen to this description of The Christian Prepper's Handbook, by Bryan Foster aka Zion Prepper (The Survival Triangle, 2013) from the Amazon.com website.
“Significant Life Altering Event (SLAE), The End of the World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI). A World without Rule or Law (WROL). This is what Christian Preppers prepare for. Bug-out Vehicle (BOV), Bug-out Bag (BOB), Bug-out Location (BOL), Bug-out Directions (BOD). This is the language of the Christian Prepper. This handbook will provide individuals, families, churches or groups access to the unique mindset of those survivalists called Christian Preppers.
Christian Preppers prepare for unknown circumstances, such as economic collapse, natural events, man-made catastrophes and even the end of the world. Christian Preppers come from all walks of life, ranging from blue-collar workers to white- collar executives running multimillion-dollar companies.”
Christian Preppers find peace of mind knowing that they have the Bible, food, water, rifles, pistols, ammunition, shelter, heat, energy and the experience to survive.
As we celebrate new members and renew our covenant as a community this morning, such a boom in the purchase of fallout shelters (no pun intended) inevitably begs the question: How should we, who seek to follow Jesus be prepping during these perilous days?
I cannot speak for you, but personally I cannot begin to imagine Jesus and the disciples hiding away in a luxury bunker purchased from proceeds donated by people fearing the end of the world while people suffer and die!
In the face of the "day of the Lord" (v. 2), the apostle Paul does not recommend building a bunker with a gym, a workshop, a rec room, a greenhouse and a car depot. Instead, Paul invites us to be "preppers" who "put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation" (v. 8). In difficult times, Paul certainly wants us to be safe, but does not suggest that we seek the protection of a walled compound patrolled by armed security personnel, keeping out the less fortunate or able.
Instead, Paul recommends a suit made of faith, hope and love.
These qualities are gifts of God that will endure until the very end of time, until we see God face to face. Remember that in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says that "faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love" (13:13).
When God gives us a suit of armor, is be made of the most durable materials available. That is why Paul chooses faith, hope and love.
A Presbyterian pastor named Jeff Krehbiel was wearing this equipment as he served churches in New York City, Wilmington and Washington, D.C. For 30 years, he did urban ministry and community organizing, always showing deep faith in God and in the people around him. With a passion for biblical story-telling, Jeff led worship services that were full of creative and interactive experiences.
Instead of retreating into a bunker, Jeff lived with hope. He worked hard to change the world around him, moving it slowly and surely toward the kingdom of God.
And through it all, he always had a lot of love -- love for his church members, his colleagues and the residents of the city around him. Jeff wore the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet he had the hope of salvation. This equipment helped him through many perilous situations.
But then one day, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In a message to his friends, he wrote that his cancer made him sad but not depressed, and he thanked everyone for their support. He said, "I am floating on the buoyancy of God's love." Within two months he was dead, but he reached the end of his life completely wrapped in faith, hope and love.
Paul knows that we are all going to die, and that no preparations can save us. For this reason, he challenges us to step out into the world with confidence, determined to live by the values of Jesus, our Christ. Paul says that we are "children of light and children of the day" (v. 5), people who leave the darkness of underground bunkers and go into the brightness of the world to be the voice, and the hands and the feet of Jesus as long as we have breath.
In Strength to Love, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." When we live by our values, we shine light into dark places and put love in the place of hate.
In apocalyptic times, we are not supposed to hide in a bunker. That's a defensive posture, one that is usually adopted by people motivated by anxieties such as nuclear war and civil unrest; and the loss of personal power and comfort.
Instead, we are to take the offense, boldly going out into the world to live active faith, hope and love.
Our challenge always is to build up instead of building down. Yes, it is tempting to dig a hole in the ground and construct a luxury bunker -- especially when we fear climate change, disease, terrorism or extremism. But Paul challenges us to "encourage one another and build up each other" (v. 11).
Think about it: Paul could have dug himself a hole when he was facing persecution in Thessalonica, disappearing into obscurity, a simple tent maker. but Paul didn't.
Paul chose to follow Jesus, to build up his friends and community to be children of the light.
In numerous other letters Paul says that building up means "speaking the truth in love," instead of avoiding difficult topics (Ephesians 4:15). Encouraging one another means that we "please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor" (Romans 15:2). Instead of focusing on our own talents and abilities, we should see that God is working through members of our entire faith community. "There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit," says Paul, "and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord" (1 Corinthians 12:4-5).
Jesus does not want us to prep for the apocalypse by hiding in a bunker. Jesus wants us to put our various gifts to use in ways that are far more constructive and lasting. So, congratulations to our new members this morning. Just look at what you are getting yourselves into as we all recommit ourselves, together, to stepping
out into the light, encouraging one another to serve our world with faith, hope and love. StrangeThere is no better way to prepare for Apocalypse, the full revelation of God